"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara - Analysis, Themes, and Summary
The lesson is one of the most successful narratives of the writer. It is always chosen for analysis by students because it displays a lot of different problems. Even though the action described in the story happened more than 50 years ago, most of them remain present these days. Also, the problems highlighted in the narrative reflect in the lives of all readers. By discovering the story told by the little girl, readers take a deep dive into the dilemma of poverty and wealth that shapes our society. The mind of a little girl becomes burdened by the unequal money distribution and ability to get paid fairly.
The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Sparknotes
Toni Cade Bambara’s The Lesson is set in Harlem in the 1960s and told from the perspective of Sylvia, a young girl with a tough nature. She is, by all means, intelligent and spirited, but also bitter, cynical and naïve to many things in life and especially socioeconomic disparities in society. The story revolves around Sylvia, her friends, and Miss Moore, who moved into the neighborhood and took it upon herself to teach the children some lessons about life. On the particular day, the story begins; Miss Moore takes the children on a field trip to a toy store on the other side of town known as F.A.O. Schwartz. In the toy store, Miss Moore has them look around and with subtle prompts observes their reactions to what they see. It is from this event that Sylvia realized what makes her angry. She is angry that some people can get to spend more money than other families make annually on toys. Thanks to The Lesson, people look at things from a different perspective to get the bigger picture and adjust their actions to follow the pursuits.
The author uses characterization to contribute to the theme of the story by juxtaposition of characters with unlike traits and showing how they are affected by the events that make up the story. People may be averse to change and build psychological barriers preventing them from seeing things differently. Sylvia is a free spirited character while Miss Moore is meticulous in her actions and thought. Their interaction brings about a contrast that builds tension in the story and enables the theme to emerge as Miss Moore’s ideas take root in Sylvia. Sylvia and her friends desire childish things and mischievous adventure while Miss Moore has a higher purpose for them. The children find it difficult to focus their attention especially with Sylvia trying to get them to rouse trouble. On the other hand, Miss Moore is tactical and manages to reign them in and teach the lesson.
The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Analysis
Outside influence plays a significant role in facilitating change because outsiders have usually other perspectives to issues. In The Lesson, Sylvia does not like Miss Moore from the beginning because she is different. She wears her hair differently, dresses up smartly all of the time and does not go to church. Sylvia also feels intimidated by the fact that Miss Moore has a college education and describes her in the most unflattering terms. Miss Moore, however, manages to gain the trust of the children’s parents and shows the children what their parents were unable to do. While some may fault the methods, Miss Moore is successful in exposing the children to the differences in socioeconomic status. The author uses Miss Moore as perceived outsider to teach a lesson to the children that would otherwise not have sunk if it was taught by someone the children were used to.
In The Lesson, the author explores themes related to socioeconomic differences, and culture by the interaction of characters with highly dissimilar characteristics and interests. Sylvia and Miss Moore stand out in the story. While Miss Moore is a meticulous adult, Sylvia is a free spirited child with little concern for the future. The author shows how despite Sylvia’s attempt to ruin the lesson for herself and the others due to her nature, Miss Moore’s tactical demeanor succeeds in passing the message to her even though she pretends not to learn anything. The author capitalizes on the contrasting individualities of characters in the story to contribute to the theme of the story.
The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Summary
A small girl from Harlem narrates the story. Being grown in an environment where a well-paid job is an unfeasible dream, she didn't see the other sides of life. However, when she met Miss Moore, who didn't fit the society, her life changed. The women moved to their neighborhood. She graduated from college, didn't use makeup, and always dressed well. Miss Moore always took youngsters to outings that they didn't like because they considered them boring. The storyteller, whose name wasn't revealed till the end of the narrative, didn't like the woman because she was strange, according to standards built in the mind of a youthful girl.
However, one trip has changed everything, especially the minds of youngsters. Miss Moore gathered kids and brought a group of children to Fifth Avenue, a luxurious area in New York City. It is the main twist in the summary of The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara. Nobody gets imposed there when they see how people spend thousands of dollars for entertainment. During the trip, the woman talked to children trying to find how they understand money and discover their families' income. Then, keeping a conversation with kids, she explains that they spend most of their lives in slums, which children did not appreciate.
Miss Moore took youngsters to a toy shop on Fifth Avenue. They were impressed with the wealth and toys that they saw there. Children started exploring the shop, choosing toys they would like to buy. They saw such toys first in their lives and didn't know what to do with some of them. One boy from the group desired to get a microscope, despite the fact he didn't know how it works. When they discovered the price tags of the toys, they were shocked. They didn't expect to see price tags that can reach hundreds and even thousands of dollars. The kids understood that they would never be able to get these toys from the shelves. The price tags of some of them were higher than the annual income of their families.
Consequently, they became disappointed. However, Sylvia, the lead character, became angry and shouted at Miss Moore. She desired to get out and head home. She couldn't understand how somebody can purchase useless dolls and small ship models for money that an average family from her district spends a month for living. On the way home, they were discussing their experience and what they discovered about society. This conversation made Silva angry, so she interrupted another child. After getting home, all the kids had different thoughts and desires. However, only Silva had a solid understanding of what she wanted and had a plan to achieve the goal.
The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara Theme
The unequal distribution of money is the central idea of the narrative. Miss Moore shows kids from slums the world of wealth that they never saw before. They were even excited by a taxi trip that their parents cannot afford. Exploring how people live in one of the wealthiest areas developed the worldview of youngsters. The toys they saw were selling for hundreds of dollars. The ones that kids own worth less than a dollar. Miss Moore's lesson helped kids cross a large gap between different societies and discover how rich people live. They were shocked that their families had to save all the money the entire year to buy a small toy. Miss Moore helped them understand that a small percentage of people own most of the money.
However, there is also one topic that is discussed in the narrative. These children were afraid about asking their parents to purchase a toy from that store. Sylvia attempted to imagine what his parents would say if she asked to buy a clown for $35. She was 100% sure that her request would be refused as their family can buy a lot of different things for this sum. Even children understand that their families have no chance to save the required amount even for several years. Poor people had no access to the opportunity to become rich. They didn't have a chance to obtain the required knowledge and get a well-paying job. However, Miss Moore explained to Sylvia that someone has to tell people about wealth imbalance. She told the girl that she shouldn't stay where she was born and can improve her life.
Apart from this, the narrative showcases the importance of kids' education. It showcases the mind-expanding effect of such trips. Children don't need to sit behind their desks, learning new skills from textbooks. Instead, they need to explore the world around them and develop their own overview. Such lessons are remarkable for children and help them get prepared for living in the real world when they grow up.
Bambara, Toni C. Gorilla, My Love. Vintage Books, 1992.
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